I have heard of MileWise.com once or twice, but have to admit I hadn’t played around very much with their website until recently. I know they have been around since at least last summer, so I suppose I have really been slacking! A few days ago they responded to a Tweet I sent about going to the Olympics with a link to their site and a search for flight reward availability to London during that time frame. That prompted me to play around with some different searches on their site, so I thought I would share a few of my initial thoughts in case you haven’t gotten a chance to visit that website either. Since I have only now played with this website a little, I won’t even begin to pretend I am a “MileWise Expert”, but I thought the site was interesting enough to go ahead and share some initial impressions. Hopefully some of you have used it more than I have and can chime in as well.
To use MileWise, just enter in your origin, destination, and dates as you would on any other online flight search website. However, instead of only receiving information back about cash or award options with one airline or alliance, you get that information for several. You will be given options to obtain tickets using cash, airline miles, hotel points, credit card points, or some combination of those. It even figures in the miles you will be earning (or not earning) and includes that in the equation. The site also takes into account the “value” of the various miles and points and uses that information to help rank the options in the order of what is giving you the best overall value. Their FAQ section says that you can personalize the valuation piece, which is good, since I may value my United miles differently than someone else does.
Their search includes the following programs:
- Alaska Airlines
- British Airways
- Delta Airlines
- Virgin America
- United Airlines
- US Airways
- American Express
- Capital One
- Starwood Preferred Guest
For cash fare inventory, we support all of the major domestic and international airlines, except for American and Southwest.
I have not yet set up my account, but once you do so it will factor in elite bonuses (if applicable) and will automatically hide any options that require more miles or points than you can afford. You can import your reward programs account information from AwardWallet, so it should be a very easy process to get your account set-up for those who use AwardWallet. MileWise updates account information from the various programs every twelve hours, so you should have pretty real time information on your points balances.
When it returns your search results, you can click on the price and be transferred to the respective airline or credit card website to book your flight. Not all of the transfers are automated, but MileWise seems to give pretty good instructions about how to get to where you need to be if it can’t do an automatic transfer. One thing I really like about this is that it puts a good visual to what many of us already know…..that miles and points in an airline program are typically worth more than the fixed value points in some credit card programs such as the ones with Capital One or Citibank. This is especially true if you want to redeem your points for first class, international, or even domestic routes that are relatively expensive. For example, I did a search from Houston to Sydney in first class. It came back as 160,000 United miles or 1.3 million Capital One points. Um, I’ll take United for the win.
Here are the results from three different searches that I did. All three are from Houston (sorry for my Houston focus!). The first is to Wichita since we go there a lot, but we often redeem miles on that domestic route as it is an expensive route. It correctly identifies that using United miles is the best option – and that is exactly what we usually do.
The second two are to Honolulu – one is economy and the other is for first class.
In both cases United miles were still the winner! You can see why they are my favorite type of airline mile.
So what’s the downside of MileWise? Well, as far as I can tell, the main downside is that you are still relying on the computer to find your reward seats, and the reality is that some of the more complicated and/or valuable reward itineraries can still really only be constructed one segment at a time manually. You also have to still be aware of alliances and award charts. For example, that first class Houston to Sydney award I mentioned earlier will come back as 160,000 United miles, but you may also be able to book that exact flight using US Airways miles as a Star Alliance partner for 140,000 miles, yet that option did not display. Chase Ultimate Reward points could also secure the United flights shown if you transfer the points 1:1, but it seems to just display their value as cash. So, you have to just know those options exist. Also, not having airlines as major as American Airlines display means that you are still doing even basic searches in more than one place (though that is American’s fault, not the fault of MileWise). However, in my limited time on the site I found it to accurately reflect the inventory that the various airlines were showing for reward flights. Just be ready to still do the creative thinking on your own.
So, my overall initial impression is that it is a great start and a brilliant concept. It is free, so you can’t really go wrong with playing around and seeing if it is useful for you. It isn’t going to replace doing some of the “dirty work” yourself when searching for reward flights (though the search can be half the fun), but it seems a good start. I’m a big supporter of anyone or anything that has a goal of making it easier for you to use your miles and points in the best way possible. Have you used MileWise? If so, what do you think?